October 29th, 2008
09:35 AM GMT
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KISHIKAWA, Japan - You have to look pretty carefully for the straight-out good news when it comes to the global economy.

Tama the cat, in her conductor's hat.
Tama the cat, in her conductor's hat.

We had to travel six hours outside of Tokyo to end of a country train line to find it. I should say find her, because to call Tama the cat an "it" might throw the town of Kishikawa into an outright upheaval.

Kishikawa is quite protective of Tama, for the little cat has singlehandedly boosted its local economy last year by more than $10 million. That is U.S. dollars, in case you're wondering.  Watch my report on Tama the cat

Tama's strange tale begins a little more than a year ago, when the Wakayama Railway heard about the friendly cat hanging out at its train stop.

The railway gave Tama the title of "Super Station Master" and built her a cushy home at the train stop. She got her own custom-made conductor's hat. The rail line started putting the cat in the hat on its posters. And a star was born.

Japan, whose official ambassador is Hello Kitty, went wild. Japanese television aired specials on the special cat. A day-in-the-life book and documentary quickly followed. The tourists started coming, traveling hours upon hours by train, carrying fistfuls of cash and buying up the town's new Tama merchandise with vigor.

Kishikawa is defying the odds: Seeing a boom in its local economy amid a national and global slowdown.

The town's Buddhist monk calls it an "accident of life" and suggests other small towns look inward to discover what's special about them.

But why did this happen in the first place? Are the Japanese that cat crazy? Perhaps, but the truth may be a little more complicated.

A businessman who took the day off work to travel hours to get a photo with Tama told me it's a chance to take a break from all the problems facing Japan. For just a few hours, he said, it's a chance to disconnect and enjoy a little town that's seeing unusual and unexpected success.

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soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Uma in Liverpool, UK

    Glad I found this little story! :-) It says something about the indomitable spirit of cats, Japanese people, and humanity in general.

    The monk is right, of course. Buddhism usually is. I'd take it a step further, and suggest everyone look inside her/himself, to find out what is 'special' - their 'Inner-Tama' in psychobabble - about each of us.

    I particularly would like to see this, in the USA, before people go out to vote. We've all listened to other people for a year. Now, it's time to listen to the quiet place, inside, and vote in harmony with that.

    October 29, 2008 at 4:08 pm |
  2. Denise in Virginia

    We lived in Japan and adopted a beautiful calico who looks much like this one. Seeing this report brings back so many good memories. I miss the serenity of Japan.
    Thank you so much for this report. (Although it does make me a little homesick.) It's just what I needed with all the turmoil right now.

    October 29, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  3. medeni France

    I think what japanese people have found is that the the secret of being able to switch themselves from this economic turmoil and uncertanity. Well done for them . Inside of everyman there is a little spark of unexpected fire powder,but unfortunataly not everybody is able lit the hope that coul spread to humanity and fry away the misery and unjustes.

    October 30, 2008 at 6:16 am |
  4. Andy

    Nice to hear part of Japan likes cats!
    Better stay away from Iwakuni with your cats, though. Nobody here likes them or has anything good to say about them. When I tell people I have a cat, they are disgusted! Everyone tells me that they stink and their hair gets on everything and can't be cleaned!
    I've never heard anything like that before I came here.

    October 30, 2008 at 6:41 am |
  5. Gary

    This is a business blog right? In the midst of the greatest financial crisis the world has seen for decades is this the best that CNN can come up with from Tokyo?

    October 30, 2008 at 7:00 am |
  6. Bishop

    I really do have this softspot for animals,but with cats it's really exceptional and something else entirely.I could go hungry and let Nana(my cat)eat my meals.It's amazing but i believe cats are superbly intelligent animals that should outshine dogs and possiply Apes.Thanks for this report really made my efforts with cats worth the while.

    October 30, 2008 at 7:59 am |
  7. Leedox

    Tama-chan Kawaii!!!!. I have very fond memories of Japan. Everyone is cat crazy there. I used to chat with a woman who had about 30 cats. Believe it or not the place was spotless and the cats were all very well fed. She said that she paid for all the food with neighbourhood donations. People came to her, she didn't ask for money. I always thought that was wonderful.

    October 30, 2008 at 9:23 am |
  8. Angie

    I just thought someone should know that even though the Fed has dropped the interest rate twice in the last month, the mortgage rates have had an increase. I wanted to refinance our home to a lower rate and the rates are higher now than they were 1 1/2 to 2 years ago. In September my local bank had a 15 year rate of 5.75% today it was 6.75%. Granted these are lower than many ARM loan rates but I just wonder how Freddie and Fannie can take all their bailout money, and then turn around and make a windfall profit on the fixed rates that some people need to stay in their homes. The Fed dropped the rate to help boost the economy and enable families to restructure debt but the F( Freddie/Fannie) twins are using a 1 point drop to their advantage and not passing it on to the consumer. I hope that people know that their locally owned banks are not the problem it is the twins. I hope that this is something that somebody will look into or ask about. This is like foreign oil (OPEC) making billions but deciding to cut production to drive prices back up. We are at the mercy of other peoples money, and their desire to make more. I hope someone can help us, all of us.

    October 30, 2008 at 4:16 pm |
  9. John Nicholas

    Hate cats.

    October 31, 2008 at 3:59 pm |
  10. Jordan

    Its just a cat acting as a super station master, so whats so special about it..... i guess in japan it could be a cool thing to see... anyway my class watches CNN every day so please try to post this...... P.S.
    Mr. Vaupel's class ROCKS!!!!!

    November 1, 2008 at 5:44 am |
  11. Phil Gatchell

    We have another first in the history of the United States, in which no other Country in the World can beat (A McGinnis New and unbeatable record). We have the 1st President in the World who bought the position of President.

    November 1, 2008 at 9:36 am |
  12. yam

    A chance to disconnect from reality. There is the answer! Is japan not doing well? So funny people want to worship an idol.

    November 3, 2008 at 12:56 pm |
  13. Jayant Kaushik

    I loved this story about Tama the super station master which has generated so much interest in Japan- people traveling all the way to have a good look and get photographed. Besides the comments from the cat lovers were interesting too.
    Incidentally, I have adopted by a cat whom we have named 'meem' as he endeared himself with that cat call. Incidentally he is a fixed male by its previous owner who left it to find a new home in our compound in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Believe me, he is so intelligent and I have never seen any other cat carrying on a conversation with us for as long as we wish- in cat lingo. Very choosy about his food and wants only dry mix with ocean fish flavour and nothing else( even fisher mans chau with anti immune agents wont do!
    Follows me or my wife when I/we go for those casual walks in the compound at night and guards our house or say hangs around it to prevent any other cats from coming any where near. Very possessive indeed.
    He is sooo sweet and has become the darling of all the kids in the compound some of whom often knock on my door to know about his welfare when ever the weather is dusty or stormy. I bet " Meem" has had a great role in destressing me from the frustrations of working in this region of the world!

    November 5, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  14. Patrick Moran.

    1/ Set up the same kind of determined, small, well chosen, international brainstorming groups that got Americans nuclear weapons and trips to the moon. This is more important, more urgent and a mainly management problem.
    2/ Recognise that Chinese poisonous milk and the global financial crisis have identical fundamental causes. Bad market forces combined with bad regulation. Ask Al Gore what happened more than 10 years ago to his project about "Reinventing Government" without which all the other objectives are unattainable?
    3/ Recognise the fundamental long term problem. Demand dependent on escalating debts is unsustainable. We do not have an economic cycle which is an Act of God. We have a man-made 300 year old debt cycle. Patrick Moran.

    November 7, 2008 at 12:54 am |
  15. Rahmathullah A S

    Presidentt elect Obama should concentrate immediately on protecting the American middle class families, from losing jobs further by providing the necessary reliefs to the existing businesses & industry And help recovering the jobs lost since recently & go for massive tax cut for one and all making available money in the hands of masses to help economy to get back to health & avoid the closure of industry & also to reopen the closed industry. He should focus more in the domestic problem , if necessary, without caring for global issues in the immediate future. it is important for America to solve their financial mess first. When America get back to tthe days of healthy economy, the worldd economy wil also get better as the world depends on the American economy.If it calls for less role for America in the global issues in the interest of their economy, they should concentrate on their financial issues first, accepting the dimished role for them in the world in the immediate future as the world can not afford weaker America. The global issues have to wait until America returns to the position of strength sooner than later for the global good.Even they should take immediate effotrs to claim back all the jobs lost in the name of outsourcing & Americans get to do all the jobs themselve even it is amounting to doing jobs at less salary than they are used in order to make their living, now in jeopardy.

    November 8, 2008 at 5:31 am |
  16. David Cascioli

    November 8, 2008

    Re: Big (3) auto maker bailout

    While we are all aware of the great importance to the economy of the big 3 automakers; are the executive prepared to take big pay cuts and forego bonuses?

    It would seem that all bonuses should be based on performance. Obviously the executives have not performed well.

    Thank you,

    November 8, 2008 at 6:54 pm |
  17. No $

    Tama needs to come to the U.S. and teach us a thing or two about improving our economy. Unfortunately, we need to find a cat here that can interpret for her because the "humans" ain't gettin' it.

    November 12, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  18. Mr. French

    i have a simple question about the auto indust.
    why does the governmet have to save privately owned companies, why doesn't the boards of these companies use the millions they make a year to save thier own company?

    November 17, 2008 at 11:32 am |
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